AM Investment Strategies
AMS Spring 2023

Copper 3D Printing with Blue Lasers Under Development by Essentium and NUBURU

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Coming off of a rough patch after the collapse of its merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Atlantic Coastal Acquisition Corp., Essentium Inc is continuing to pursue innovative 3D printing techniques. The latest involves a partnership with NUBURU, a developer of high-powered blue lasers. Together, the companies will work to create a metal additive manufacturing (AM) process based on NUBURU’s blue laser technology.

The partnership is described as a “multi-year, multi-million-dollar agreement,” in which Essentium could incorporate NUBURU’s blue laser technology into its own High Speed Extrusion (HSE) platform. The first phase of the project would see this applied to 3D printing for product development, followed by a second manufacturing-oriented phase. Essentium will also be licensing NUBURU’s 3D printing application patents based on its foundational patent, “Methods and systems for welding copper using blue laser” US10,940,562B2 and JP2019562226A.

3D printing with copper is currently somewhat difficult, particularly with powder bed fusion (PBF). Its high reflectivity reduces the amount of energy absorbed by the material, thus requiring higher power output from the laser, potentially impacting overall part quality. Alternatives include the use of metal binder jetting or bound metal extrusion, which may not result in the same part density as PBF. PBF users have found ways around the reflectivity issue that may involve lower print speeds or supplanting conventional energy sources with green or blue lasers.

Therefore, NUBURU’s technology could be ideal for 3D printing with copper, as well as other highly reflective metals like stainless steel and aluminum. According to Essentium, NUBURU’s blue laser could increase build speeds by ten times while achieving high metal density.

“We are excited to work closely with the Essentium team and combine the powers of our existing technologies to develop and manufacture a new transformative platform for additive manufacturing,” said Mark Zediker Ph.D., co-founder, CEO, and President at NUBURU. “Our high power, high brightness blue laser technology, along with our 3D printing IP will help Essentium build a powerful metal 3D printer with a wide range of applications.”

“NUBURU is the leader in blue laser technology, and their expertise will help enable gains in speed and power within our new platform,” said Elisa Teipel, Ph.D., Chief Development Officer and co-founder of Essentium. “We are looking forward to working with their team and leveraging their technology, enabling Essentium to commercialize a new metal 3D printing platform.”

One wonders how this would be integrated into Essentium’s HSE platform, which relies on thermoplastic extrusion. Because NUBURU’s process is described as a welding technology, we can imagine that HSE could perform a form of directed energy deposition (DED) with metal wire feedstock. After all, DED manufacturer Formalloy already uses NUBURU’s blue laser technology for its systems. Or Essentium could perform bound metal extrusion that might be sintered during the printing process, rather than in a furnace once the print is complete.

Because Essentium’s acquisition of Collider fell through, due to what seemed to be a lack of anticipated capital from the SPAC IPO, it’s difficult to see how the company could have the funds for a multi-million-dollar licensing deal. Essentium did hint at the development of a metal 3D printing technology when it made its initial SPAC announcement. So, this NUBURU deal could have already been in the works and may not have been as significant of a financial investment as the Collider acquisition.

My own concern for the company as it approached its IPO was that it was still too young and unestablished to make the public leap. Its HSE platform is promising, but I worried that Essentium was attempting to grow too quickly. I continue to have that concern, not just for this firm, but for a number of businesses in the industry, like BICO. However, I’m just the writer here and not a manufacturing executive, so I’ll leave it to the professionals to decide how to run their businesses.

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